Project description

As a result of the Seven Years' War, the Dresden Court was no longer able to finance its once so opulent opera activities. From 1764, efforts to find cheaper alternatives led to the engagement of private theatre companies. First and foremost, these were Italian opera ensembles and German companies of actors. As the latter were dedicated to music theatre, they required performers with vocal abilities. Nevertheless, with a single exception (viz. the premiere of Johann Gottlieb Naumann's La Clemenza di Tito in 1769), this period of a "court without a theatre" lasted half a century. Particularly prominent among these companies of actors were those of Abel Seyler (1775 to 1777), Pasquale Bondini (1777 to 1789) and Joseph Seconda (1790 to 1816), whereby the last named increasingly developed into an opera ensemble. The long-term fostering of musical comedy and German-language opera of foreign provenance very likely made a decisive contribution to the formation of the "German Department" headed by Carl Maria von Weber in 1816/17.

Nevertheless, interest focused on Italian opera, the continuance of which was based on contracts with the respective impresari until 1813. The reason for their popularity lay not only in the repertoire but also in the quality of the performances. This was primarily due to the Italian singers, although the privileged position of the opera ensembles themselves, who were able to rely on the famous Court Orchestra, was also a contributory factor. Naumann, appointed Kapellmeister of Electoral Saxony for life in 1786, succeeded – after a period of crisis – in leading the orchestra to a new heyday. This also proved beneficial to Italian opera.

The fact that the orchestra and opera still existed following the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig in 1813 was not self-evident. By combining the orchestra, opera and theatre into a state institution in 1814, Prince Nikolai Repnin, the Russian Governor General of the occupied kingdom of Saxony, provided the organisational groundwork for the court successor institution, accountable to the "Director General of the Royal Musical Orchestra and the Court Theatre". For the first time, the field of opera was divided up into an Italian and a German department, headed by Francesco Morlacchi and Carl Maria von Weber, respectively. Although both departments relied on the court orchestra and the opera choir and shared the stages, they differed in regard to repertoire, singers and Kapellmeisters. Less than twenty years later on 31st March 1832, the farewell performance of Italian opera took place with Mozart's Don Giovanni.

After Weber's early death in 1826, a protagonist for German-language opera was found in Carl Gottlieb Reißiger, who strongly influenced the Dresden music world for three decades. By means of his triumphant premiere of Rienzi in Gottfried Semper's Court Theatre (1842), Reißiger paved the way for his Kapellmeister colleague Richard Wagner to take office. While in Dresden, Wagner created Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, before fleeing the city in 1849 as a revolutionary wanted by the police. In 1850, he was replaced by Karl August Krebs; ten years later Reißiger was succeeded by Julius Rietz. After the theatre fire in 1869, a provisional stage was set up, known as the "Bretterbude" (Wooden shack), which was used until the inauguration of the second Semper building in 1878.

While the high artistic level itself was not affected by the fire disaster, the same cannot be said of the spirit of innovation that had led to numerous premieres in the first half of the century; this now noticeably declined. From 1872, this state of affairs was redressed by Ernst Schuch. In a career encompassing over forty years in Dresden, he established an international reputation for both the orchestra and opera there: as an orchestra director with a flair for discovering singing talents, by consolidating the repertoire (main works from Italy and France), by preserving the heritage of German music (Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, but also Dittersdorf, Hiller and Marschner), but – first and foremost – by bringing innovations into the public eye (such as Aida as early as 1876).

Works from the later period were not included in the Dresden Opera Archive digital Project, because the works concerned (e.g. by Richard Strauss) are still protected by copyright.